A “Christian agnostic” explores the varied manifestations and challenges of fidelity in this collection of personal essays.
Nelson Botzler (If You Are Retiring, You Might Join the Peace Corps!, 2017), who has a Ph.D. in education, worked in multicultural curriculum development in schools and universities in northern California. Her understanding of teacher preparation and education strategies, her experience in the Peace Corps after retirement (the subject of her previous book), and her knowledge of multiple languages and faith traditions inform this broad-minded, intriguing, and introspective work. Described in the preface as a “small book” containing “brief reflections, profiles, and sets of open-ended questions,” it explores in 10 chapters (or “meditations”) the elusive ideal of fidelity, especially to oneself. Readers learn that fidelity affects creativity, compassion, rejuvenation, and especially relationships. In fact, Nelson Botzler devotes two chapters to relationships, which must not only be created, but also nurtured and sustained. Self-care is also important, and the author stresses that this is not an ascetic path but a means to becoming fully human. She mixes portraits of great humanitarians throughout history into her account, and each chapter concludes with bulleted questions asking the reader how to apply these insights in daily life. Though she draws primarily from Christian traditions, the author also borrows from Buddhist, Muslim, and Jewish concepts and particularly champions secular humanism as “a common intellectual framework for dialogue among and between diverse groups that is based on critical thinking, civility, and fairmindedness” within a democracy. The book is quite short, as are the profiles of the famous figures she includes. It would have been more effective to tell stories rather than have generic summaries of the lives of Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, et al, who are already widely known. What is particularly lacking is the author’s own journey. She offers generalizations, like “humility also allows me to share my mistakes, to admit the harm I have done—whether intentionally or unintentionally” but declines to provide salient details about these errors or shortcomings. In addition, she never fully relates her struggles to comprehend fidelity. In the end, readers do not have enough information to form a clear picture of Nelson Botzler as an individual.
An incisive series of musings that lacks deeper, personal revelations.